Have you heard of the ‘bug bounty’ program by big tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, and others? Here is what happens. Companies invite people to hack their systems and find potential security breaches or other vulnerabilities. It’s a win-win. The hackers get paid a handsome amount of money to find these bugs, while the companies fix them. This hacking, which is done in a safe and controlled environment, is called penetration testing, and falls under the ethical hacking umbrella. Let us dig deeper into what is penetration testing and how you can build a career in this field.
What is Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing, commonly called pen testing, is a popular phenomenon in the cybersecurity sector. It is a simulated attack or hacking performed on a computer system in a controlled environment to find gaps or bugs in the server that can cause data loss or data breaches. This hacking is authorized by the companies. By identifying vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure, penetration testing helps companies strengthen their cybersecurity framework. There are three types of penetration testing:
1. Black Box Penetration Testing
In black box penetration testing, companies offer only minimum knowledge to the testers. The testers have to spend time on understanding the network environment and then locate the vulnerabilities. Black box testing is a comprehensive cybersecurity test as the testers check the entire IT infrastructure.
2. White Box Penetration Testing
This type of penetration testing is done to achieve specific goals like finding bugs in a newly developed software or application. Unlike in black box testing, companies provide the necessary information to the tester.
3. Grey Box Penetration Testing
In this type of testing, companies provide knowledge of the network and hosts to the tester. Grey box testing saves time as the tester does not have to spend much time understanding the environment.
Apart from the different types of testing, there are some common techniques used. These include:
- Web application testing
- Mobile application testing
- Wireless penetration testing
- Network service penetration testing
- Social engineering penetration testing
- Physical penetration testing
What are the Benefits of Penetration Testing?
Now that we’ve discussed what is penetration testing, let us understand why it is advantageous for companies.
- It identifies potential vulnerabilities in the security system and helps assess the strength of the security framework.
- It helps prevent cybersecurity breaches and data loss.
- It augments the security framework.
- It helps companies enhance customer loyalty.
- It gives companies an edge over competitors.
What are the Different Penetration Testing Stages?
Ethical hacking is an elaborate process that helps locate security vulnerabilities in a system. It is divided into different stages, which include:
Stage 1: Reconnaissance
The testers collect information about the network, applications, and operating systems by engaging with the target system. It helps testers create an effective strategy for penetration testing.
Stage 2: Scanning
Tester scans the network for open entry-points that can be accessed by hackers. This stage is commonly called vulnerability scanning.
Stage 3: Gaining and Maintaining Access
In this stage, the testers use various tools to intercept traffic and exploit vulnerabilities. This provides a detailed analysis of the loopholes in the security system.
Stage 4: Reporting
In the last stage, the testers prepare a comprehensive report explaining all the vulnerabilities and how they can be fixed.
Who Performs Penetration Tests?
Penetration testers, also called ethical hackers, perform penetration tests for companies. These are skilled professionals who know ‘what is penetration testing’. They have expert knowledge of computer networks and security systems. Mostly, penetration tests are performed by external consultants or professionals. However, companies may also ask employees who have the relevant knowledge and skills to perform the tests.
Penetration Tester Tasks and Responsibilities
A penetration tester’s tasks and responsibilities vary according to the requirements of companies and the type of testing involved. Some of their fundamental responsibilities include:
- Running tests on computer networks and cloud architectures
- Performing simulated attacks on computer systems
- Reviewing codes to identify security vulnerabilities
- Fixing bugs or reverse engineering malware
- Writing technical reports
Where do Penetration Testers Work?
The majority of penetration testers work in security consulting firms or bug bounty companies. Many penetration testers also work in-house for big companies. In addition, a lot of penetration testers operate as freelance consultants or security analysts for companies.
Why Pursue a Career in Penetration Testing?
Penetration testing is one of the most sought-after careers these days. The demand for expert penetration testers and information security analysts is growing rapidly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, information security analyst jobs will grow by 35 per cent by 2031.
In addition to the numerous job opportunities, a high salary is another significant advantage of pursuing a career in this field. According to Indeed, the average base salary of penetration testers in the U.S. is $123,839 per year. Professionals with 1-2 years of experience earn up to $177,944 per year.
How to Become a Penetration Tester?
To become a penetration tester, you must:
1. Get a Degree in Computer Science
According to Indeed, 100 per cent of penetration tester job openings in the U.S. cite a bachelor’s degree as a mandatory requirement. Companies mostly prefer candidates with Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science, IT, or Cybersecurity.
2. Learn the Relevant Skills
Along with a degree, you must have the necessary skills to become a penetration tester. These are:
- Computer networking
- Information security
- Network and application security
- Security assessment
- Technical writing and documentation
- Cloud architecture
In addition to these skills, you should be familiar with the following programming languages:
- Burp Suite
You should also learn how to use common tools like Kali Linux, Nmap, and Nessus.
3. Take on Internships
The next step is to know ‘what is penetration testing’ is to take internships to gain practical training. You can also work on research projects to polish your skills. Another way to gain practical experience is to apply for bounty bug programs of several companies.
4. Get Certifications
Along with doing internships or jobs, you can enroll in professional training programs or certificate courses in ethical hacking or penetration testing. Certifications like GIAC Penetration Tester (GPEN), Certified Penetration Tester (CPT), and GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT) can enhance employability.
5. Apply for Jobs
You can search and apply for jobs on platforms like LinkedIn and Indeed. Another way to get a testing job is to directly reach out to companies through cold calls. Once you gain experience, you can also work as a freelancer.
Due to technological advancements, hackers are constantly innovating to breach cybersecurity systems and steal data. As a result, organizations have to be alert and proactive to ensure that their system is free of vulnerabilities. This has led to a worldwide increase in the demand for cybersecurity experts. Online cybersecurity courses on the Emeritus platform can teach you the essentials of network and cloud security and help you acquire relevant skills.
By Sneha Chugh
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